On 22nd November, the final Sunday of the Church Year, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 93, Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-37.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, on this the last Sunday of the Church Year. This feast only came into being 90 years ago when Pope Pius XI sought to counter the negative effect on faith in Jesus of a change in the governance of countries away from monarchies and towards dictatorships. Change has continued; of the 196 or so countries in the world, only 44 have monarchies. The idea of being ruled by a king, or equivalent, looks outmoded, conjuring up ideas of tyranny, oppression or even of evil. The idea of a privileged dynasty is rejected in favour of greater equality. In its place has come the elected head of state, although there are still dictators ruling about a quarter of all countries.
However outmoded the concept of a king may be, it’s simply not possible to airbrush out of the Bible the association of Jesus with kingship. Kingship runs through Jesus’ life from birth to death and cannot be avoided if we are to see him as he really is. When the angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, he was given the title Saviour but also ‘Christ, the Lord’: Christ, the anointed one, the expected king who would take over David’s throne and drive out the Romans. The wise men asked Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” As Jesus began his ministry, he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” As Jesus hung dying, the title above his head was: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”. Easter demonstrated Jesus’ power and glory as he was resurrected. At his ascension Jesus referred to “all authority in heaven on earth” which is his.
Within the Gospels there are 125 references to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus spent much of his teaching on clarifying what the Kingdom of God is like, often using parables. It is small, like a mustard seed, but grows huge enough to give shelter. It’s insignificant in quantity, like yeast, but affects all the dough. It’s hidden like treasure in a field. It’s valuable like the pearl of great price. It’s a kingdom where a child and a thief are both welcomed and accepted.
A kingdom such as this needs a special kind of king. Jesus’ kingship is not one that opens a gap between himself and his subjects. On the contrary, he chose to humble himself and leave heaven to live as one of us so that he could fully appreciate what it was like to be a human being. He was born in poverty. He worked with his hands as a carpenter. He had no palace to live in, but was an itinerant rabbi, dependent on others for food and shelter. He knew hunger and thirst; rejection, abandonment and loneliness. He was imprisoned, insulted, beaten, and killed by those over whom he had authority. Though he could have called down legions of angels in his defence, he chose the way of suffering and love as the way to save us from the oppression, not of the Romans, but of sin.
Jesus described himself as ‘one who serves’, unlike kings of the time who would have been served. He described his disciples not as servants but as friends. Citizens of this kingdom don’t demonstrate their allegiance by bowing and curtseying as he passes or by singing the national anthem. They show it by serving others just as their king served others. Unlike an earthly kingdom, Christ’s kingdom has no defined land borders but extends as far as there are those who have chosen to call him ‘Lord’, ‘King’ and ‘Master’, who enthrone him in their hearts and lives. The common language of Jesus’ kingdom is love and its currency is service. There is no oppression in this kingdom. Justice is tempered with mercy and forgiveness.
It’s not surprising that Pilate was confused when he tried to discuss kingship with Jesus. For Pilate, as for Herod when Jesus was born, a king was a political rival and a threat. Someone who declared themselves king had to be seeking power for themselves by ousting the current incumbent. It was necessary for Pilate to find out just what was going on. Jesus tried to explain to Pilate that if he were the normal kind of king, there would be battles and a struggle for power. However, as Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Jesus had not come into the world to wrest power from others but to declare the truth about God and to gather into a new kind of kingdom all those for whom the message resonated. As we read in Revelation, Jesus has “made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.”
As this Church Year ends, we begin the season of Advent when we look towards a time when Jesus will return as promised and begin his reign on earth. I think for many of us there is a longing for a new kind of kingdom. We watch events unfold across the world. We see innocent people killed at random. We see young people taken in by an ideology that proclaims that murder, kidnap and subjugation of people under an oppressive regime is somehow honouring to their god. We grieve with the loved ones of both victims and perpetrators who have died.
The leaders of the nations, whether they be kings, presidents or elected representatives seem to be alternately breathing the fire of vengeance or wringing their hands in despair as to what to do to counter terrorist threats. Citizens look to their leaders for guidance and really don’t find much. There is the risk that people will take the law into their own hands and make victims of innocent people as a result of the climate of fear that is prevailing.
The Christian faith is realistic. It accepts that people tend to do evil things although they are also capable of great good. It accepts that we live in a broken world. It also invites us to look up in hope, not allowing ourselves to be overcome by despair as we observe events in the world. With Daniel we can look forward to a glorious time our wise king will begin his eternal rule:
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor